Productivity and research staples

Photo of University of Tasmania professor Dr Steven Smith

The University of Tasmania's Professor Steven Smith has led the development of rice containing more resistant starch.

PHOTO: Gilles Sabrie

The Gene Scence

The Agricultural Biotechnology Council of Australia (ABCA) is an industry initiative established to increase public awareness of, and encourage informed debate and decision-making about, gene technology. The organisation is supported by a number of agricultural sectors and organisations all working to ensure the Australian farming sector can appropriately access and adopt this technology for the benefit of Australian agriculture.

UK research looks for GM answer to wheat yield ceiling

Researchers in the UK hope to carry out field trials in 2017 and 2018 to test whether GM wheat plants are able to carry out photosynthesis more efficiently and whether this trait could result in higher-yielding crops.

The scientists, from Rothamsted Research, in collaboration with researchers at the University of Essex and Lancaster University, have shown that these GM plants carry out photosynthesis more efficiently in glasshouse conditions where the plants exhibited yields between 20 and 40 per cent higher.

“Outdoor field trials are essential if scientists are to find new ways to boost food production,” says Professor Christine Raines, head of the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Essex and principal investigator for this research project.

“Yields over the past 30 years have plateaued using traditional breeding techniques,” she says. “The efficiency of the photosynthesis process over the season is the major determinant of crop yield. However, to date photosynthetic traits have not been used to select for high-yielding crops in conventional breeding programs and represents an unexploited opportunity. But there is now evidence that improving the efficiency of photosynthesis by genetic modification is one of the promising approaches to achieve higher wheat yield potential.”

The research is funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) as part of the International Wheat Yield Partnership Consortium, of which the GRDC is a partner.

GM crop access now assured in WA

Grain growers in Western Australia now have access to, and the choice of, new GM crops as soon as they are approved as safe by the national regulator following the passing of the Genetically Modified Crops Free Areas Repeal Bill 2015 in WA’s Legislative Assembly in October.

“This will give certainty to our farmers and investors, reduce red tape and provide access to new opportunities and tools for grain growers to be innovative,” says the WA Minister for Agriculture and Food, Mark Lewis. “It is essential when we are presented with these new and approved technologies to produce higher-yielding crops that we don’t delay in embracing them.”

The Pastoralists and Graziers Association and WA Farmers supported the repeal of the Genetically Modified Crops Free Areas Act 2003.

WA joins Queensland and the Northern Territory in minimising red tape for GM crop regulation. All three implement the regulatory decisions made by the federal Gene Technology Regulator in relation to the human health and environmental safety of GM crops.

Victoria still has a GM moratorium in place, but there are no actual orders made under it, so the state’s farmers can still access GM crops approved by the Gene Technology Regulator. New South Wales, which has allowed the cultivation of GM cotton since 1996 and GM canola since 2008, has a legislated moratorium on commercial cultivation of GM food crops until 2021 unless approved by the state Minister for Primary Industries (as was the case for GM canola). GM moratoria still exist in South Australia and Tasmania.

Tasmanian researchers develop healthier rice

Researchers in Tasmania have discovered a way to increase the production of resistant starch in rice, which makes it harder to digest and could have positive health effects such as reduced rates of diabetes, cancer and obesity.

Professor Steven Smith from the University of Tasmania says the discovery could have numerous health benefits. “Normally rice is digested relatively quickly, and because most of the component of the rice is starch, which is made up of sugars, that essentially gives you a sugar hit,” he says.

“So the modified rice contains a different starch which is digested more slowly and therefore you don’t get that same sugar hit.”

As Asian countries are seeing an increase in the incidence of diabetes and obesity, increasing the resistant starch content of rice could provide a way to help limit such health problems, Professor Smith says.

More information:

Australian Biotechnology Council of Australia


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